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Virginia Hunt Newman International Award

2009 Francoise Freedman, Ph.D.


Françoise Freedman, with a Ph.D. from Cambridge University, has more than twenty years experience teaching and educating instructors in water babies programs from her London area home base. She founded and operates Birthlight, an organization focusing on a holistic approach to pregnancy, birth and babyhood that includes an original water babies program and a pre and postnatal aquanatal program.


Growing up as a competitive swimmer in the central region of France, Françoise credits her coaches with instilling a drive for excellence without losing the fun of swimming. As a teen she spent summers teaching swimming to reluctant children and learned that gentle progressions helped children to happily relax and float in preparation to learn more advanced skills.


As a young fieldworker in Peruvian Amazonia, swimming was again a useful and natural activity; whether diving down to catch fish in the streams that flow from the Andes or as a daily recreational treat for all children or for bathing. She saw older children teaching little tots to swim as part of looking after them, as well as parents crossing rivers with babies on their backs. Françoise was very much in a natural water environment and thereby also observed the movements of pink dolphins, otters and other water creatures swimming with their young.


Returning to London to continue her education academically as well as aquatically, she set up a small group of families who were interested in “swimming with their babies” and incorporated the gentle playful ways witnessed in the Amazon. The water sessions became the highest of each week in Cambridge, Françoise then having children of her own. Virginia Hunt Newman’s book, Teaching an Infant to Swim was an early inspiration for her to teach babies and young children.


The presentation of her first film Water Parenting in 1995 launched the Birthlight approach to infant aquatics with a focus on effective communication between parents and babies in a water environment. The film conveyed the message that water could be conducive to an easier birth, in the water or not, and that it could also help parents bond with their babies at any time by finding ease together in the



Her video Swimming with Babies came next, followed by her book Water Babies. Working at the time also as an academic medical anthropologist at Cambridge University, Françoise’s university colleagues were surprised to see a two-page article on Birthlight Baby Swimming


in the Times, and again on the front page of the Daily Mail, both leading UK newspapers.

Françoise continues to impact gentle ways through her Birthlight organization, making sure teachers always create a wave of warmth and a good time in the water for children and parents.

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